Stars were shining brightly in the middle of the afternoon at Tigertail Beach in April.
Eleven “stars” from Tommie Barfield Elementary School arrived at the beach with their adult tutors in tow to see first hand what lives in the water around Marco Island. Wide eyes and big smiles were seen on faces young and old. This was no ordinary field trip! These second grade students had been working hard all year as part of the “Stars on the Water” afterschool tutoring and enrichment program. The trip to the beach marked a milestone in their progress and success.
This program began five years ago when Father Kyle Bennett, the new pastor at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, suggested a partnership with the public elementary school on the island similar to the one in his former parish in Mississippi. It didn’t take long for representatives from the church to get together with the administration and teachers at Tommie Barfield to see how they could best help young students. The result was a collaborative effort that has provided exceptional academic support to 60 second graders in our community.
Students areselected for the “stars” program by their teachers. Once the students arrive for the first session, they are paired with adult volunteers to receive one-on-one tutoring in the basic skills of language arts and math as well as assistance with homework. “Often people mistake our program as English as a Second Language program, but it is not that at all.” said Candy Morgan, program coordinator. The children come from a wide range of family backgrounds and all speak English. To take the load off the parents, students are transported to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church by the school. “While the church hosts the program, we do not teach religion since we are partners with a public school system,” she said. A special bond develops as the adults and children meet and work together on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from November through April.
The unique thing about this afterschool program is that in addition to the academic focus of the first hour, each student receives an hour of enrichment every session based on the theme “Marco Island and the Waters Around Us.” Sea Stars, Pear Whelks, Heart Cockles, Horseshoe Crabs,and Crown Conchs are just some of the animals the children learn about throughout the year. A sidewalk art contest gives the children the opportunity to express their creativity with chalk. This year sea monsters came alive as the children visualized what they had learned. According to Morgan, “The children especially enjoy monthly nature programs by Charlette Roman and Linda Shockley, which culminate in the field trip to Tigertail Beach.”
Dedicated volunteers from both St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and San Marco Catholic Church have contributed to the success of this program by assisting and encouraging each student in the successful completion of the academic year.” Stars children thrive on the attention from these caring and patient tutors,” Morgan said.
Charlette Roman has been a full-time Marco Island resident since 2002. Certified as a Florida Master Naturalist in both Coastal Systems and Freshwater Wetlands, she leads field trips to Tigertail and speaks to groups about Marco’s unique environment. She is certified in the Department of Education’s Flying Wild program, and served as president of the Friends of Tigertail Beach, Inc. 2004-2007. In 2009, she received the prestigious Collier County Audubon Society Fellowship.